Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Back to the basics at Jack's Wife Freda

Jack’s Wife Freda is an intimate, unique and somewhat quirky restaurant with two locations in Manhattan: 224 Lafayette Street in SoHo and 50 Carmine Street in the West Village.

What kind of food is it? ZAGAT characterized it as, “‘delish’ American fare with a ‘Middle Eastern twist’” while New York Mag called it, “South African Israeli Jewish Grandmother Cuisine.” I personally have no idea where the “grandmother” vibe came into it, but it seemed to me like a menu that brought dinning back to the basics (vegetables, fish and meat) in a delightfully unpretentious way.

You’ll understand what I mean when you take a look at the menu. You can’t help but notice the drawings on their paper are simple sketches of individual items and basic cookware. And the vibe of the restaurant is classically café-chic with wooden tables, café bistro chairs and brass light fixtures. I looked over to our neighbors, two young women – one with a whole fish, the other with a burger and fries, each plate sparsely decorated with hardly any garnish. I appreciated that. It allowed the food itself to stand out on the plain white plates. And there was nothing trying too hard about it: nothing camouflaged in superfluous lettuce, herbs or sauces – just food on a plate.

My friend and I chose the spiced beet dip as our appetizer, which was pretty amazing. It was much creamier and sweeter than I imagined and was topped with crumbled feta cheese and herbs. The pita, which was served on the side, was warm and grilled, and consistently replenished until we finished our dip. For our entrees, we both ordered the same thing and loved it. The dish was called, Ground Lamb and Eggplant “Lasagna” – “lasagna” was in quotes since there was no actual pasta involved. Instead it was three layers of eggplant baked with a lamb meat sauce and presented in a white ceramic dish. The cheese on top was melted and slightly brown and tasted like a delicious moussaka – perhaps an influence from yet another region of the world. 

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